ILO considers inquiry into workers rights in Fiji | Pacific Beat

ILO considers inquiry into workers rights in Fiji

ILO considers inquiry into workers rights in Fiji

Updated 14 June 2013, 9:53 AEST

Fiji is on the agenda at a meeting of the International Labour Organisation in Geneva.

Earlier this year the military government refused permission for a visit to Fiji by a delegation from the ILO.

Both employer and union groups are reportedly angry at the delegations treatment by Fiji but more so over attempts to stifle the rights of trade unionists in Fiji.

One proposal is the major step of referring Fiji to a Commission of Inquiry.

Presenter: Geraldine Coutts

Speaker: Sharan Burrow, Head, International Confederation of Trade Unions

BURROW: The situation in Fiji, Fiji is untenable, it has a military dictatorship, they've basically issued decrees, decree after decree in fact that closed democratic spaces and trade union freedom. And of course beyond the issue for working people we've seen the issue of the freedom of the press so none of this can be discussed, absolutely closed off and we've seen a constitutional farce. So there is a case hearing right now in the ILO where employers and workers are standing side by side indicating that it must change, that the Fiji government must actually respect fundamental rights and principles. But there will be a further hearing in the governing body following the conference of the ILO this Friday. And we'll certainly be petitioning for a commission of inquiry. That's if you like the more serious supervisory investigation that the ILO will hold. It is absolutely unbelievable that the government would refuse to have a mission from the ILO. In fact today they've made the farcical suggestion that they might let them in December but of course it would be on changed conditions. They're telling an international body that they might be able to come and that they would have to submit to the conditions of a military dictator, that's simply not acceptable.

COUTTS: Well how did Fiji get on to the agenda of this international labour organisation, was it the ILO itself or the trade unions, you, who put Fiji on the agenda for this meeting?
BURROW: Well we clearly put Fiji on the agenda, the case list is negotiated between the employers and the workers represented in a tripartite UN body, the International Labour Organisation. What happens is that we respect the independent jurists, the committee of experts' case list. But the workers and employers add to that and then there's a tribunal if you like whereby the cases are heard, the employers and the workers negotiate a conclusion, and those conclusions are then respected across the tripartite system. So it's a very serious procedure, it is in fact the pre-eminent supervisory mechanism of the International Labour Organisation and only the very worst cases of violation are able to be heard given that you actually get to hear about 25 cases in any one year.
COUTTS: With respect Sharan I mean it's widely known the points that you've made and the allegations levelled at Fiji. So what outcomes are you hoping to get from this ILO organisation in Brussels and does it have any teeth, what can they do anyway?
BURROW: Well it certainly has teeth, does it instantly resolve the situation? No. But most governments will negotiate to actually not be on the list, to resolve their problems through negotiation. Clearly that's not the case with the Fiji military government. And so the international community will hear the issues, they'll make their decisions, it goes on the record and sometimes it takes a little while. But we're celebrating rebuilding fundamental rights and freedoms in Burma and the ILO was instrumental to see that the pressure was maintained until you saw democratic rights and freedoms back in that country. And of course we'll continue to do the same in regards to Fiji.
COUTTS: Well it went viral the savage beating by the Fiji police, the police are still investigating, that was four months ago and there's still no outcome. Is that kind of issue being brought up by you at this meeting?
BURROW: It will certainly be referred to as a contextual frame to establish the nature of this government. The issue of course here are within the mandate and construction of the ILO, which is indeed how dedicated to labour rights. So to the extent that the ILO can act on that particular act of torture, that's not their jurisdiction. But like any case those things provide a context for establishing just how significant the violation of human labour rights are in the context of working people in this case in Fiji. 
COUTTS: Well the ILO have an axe to grind at this meeting being chucked out last time and may be allowed in again in December?
BURROW: Well it's certainly an absolute indication of disrespect to a UN body, it's without too many precedents around the world, governments mightn't like the fact that they're being investigated but I think most accept that when there is a serious high level mission, when there are mechanisms like the hearing in the committee on the application of standards that the implications are serious. This week alone to give you an example we've actually reaffirmed the commitment to negotiations around security, around prosecutions and around the implementation of fundamental rights in Guatemala. Now that's a very difficult country environment, but the ambassador, a labour minister, ourselves we sit down and reaffirm our commitment to make that happen and it'll be supervised leading up to November. We were able to actually cut a deal with the Brazillian government around indigenous labour. So these are serious areas of work, and for Fiji to actually shut down fundamental rights for working people, to not allow the freedoms that are enshrined in international law and then to deny access for a high level mission to investigate to look to negotiating solutions, this is a very serious breach of international performance and behaviour in regards with respect for the standards that are international law.


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